Sunday, November 29, 2020

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

 Listening to Cesaria Evora Live d'Amour.

 Painting this year's Christmas cards:

Pachinko is the story of a family of Koreans during the Japanese occupation of their country, how they struggled to survive and eventually got through to the other side of the war (although not everyone did).  It is a profound and powerful record of history from a little regarded perspective, the Korean.

While Westerners may lump Asians together, they have distinctive cultures, languages and their own opinions about each other.  

It is a popular opinion to vilify Americans for their role in WWII by devastating Japanese cities with the H Bomb.  It is not so popular to consider that the Chinese and Koreans do not view the Japanese as innocent victims and were actually grateful to Americans for ending a war that killed far more people in their countries than were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki together.

 Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – PBS Books




This book started out strong. As a Christian, I wondered if this book was written by a Christian because she was unusually respectful to the Christian characters in her book.

But the got worse halfway through the book. According to the author, the Koreans and Japanese went from morally conservative people in the 1940s to foul mouthed participants of casual sex by 1960.

The first generation of characters were admirable in their courage and grit, getting through grinding poverty and oppression during the Japanese occupation in the 1930s and 40s. I felt their suffering, rooted for their success and was profoundly relieved when their lot against all odds improved. The author colorfully describes the plight of the Koreans under Japanese rule, something that seems to be overshadowed in the U.S. by the plethora of documentaries about Japanese internment camps. People seem to forget who started that war.

When we get to the third generation, we see how both Korea and Japan have recovered from war torn countries to robust business people. They did this by their own effort and ingenuity. These people, who were truly victims, did not try to self-identify as victims or expect a free ride. People who are part of the victim identity politics of today might learn something by generations past.


by the time the children have grown up and started college or work, the moral standards have sunk into decrepitude. This generation, according to the author, cannot express themselves without using the "F" word and sex with your girlfriend was a matter of course.

I wonder at this because even in the west using the F word wasn't common until the eighties when it was in all the movies and as a consequence became a part of the population's vocabulary.

When the moral standard sunk, so did my interest in the book. It deteriorated into a kind of soap opera with characters I could not care less about.


Marian H said...

Hmm, thanks for the heads up! It's too bad the book took a downward turn. I remember thinking about reading this - it might be on my TBR? - but your review confirms my hesitation.

The only Korean novel I've read so far is Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin. It's set in the modern day, but I thought it was pretty well written and didn't rely on shock value to convey its message.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Marion,

You know, it makes me mad because there were so many positive elements to this story. If she had simply left out the language and sex, I would have really liked this novel.

Brian Joseph said...

Excellent review Sharon. It sounds like the author was not approving of some of the actions of the later generations. But I can see how it could be a let down after the early chapters in the book.

The Japanese army and government behaved brutally throughout Asia in World War II..I agree that there is no moral comparison between those actions and American action. With that, I think it is OK to examine past American actions to learn from past mistakes as long as that examination does not descend into the worst excesses of identity politics.

Have a great week!

mudpuddle said...

i still consider the "f" word to be outside civilized discourse... yet another reason to avoid modern lit. at least some of the book was worthwhile; maybe the author felt impelled to include the amoral stuff: i sense a publisher's greedy paws reaching out... "do you really want this book to take off, Ms. Lee"... etc.

James said...

I read this book almost a year ago and enjoyed it a bit more than you did. I found the relationships and the history of Koreans in Japan demonstrably interesting. This helped me to overlook the more negative aspects of the novel.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Brian,

I agree. I guess what I protest is the emphasis in this country in media on America's 'sins' against the Japanese as if we started the war or as if less people would have been killed if we hadn't ended the war by dropping the H bomb.

Hope you and your family had a blessed Thanksgiving.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi mudpuddle,

I completely agree with you. That word is the sign of a poverty-stricken vocabulary.

And it is why I also rarely read fiction published in the last thirty years.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi James,

I also found the historical aspects interesting. I just don't understand why authors include foul language. It doesn't contribute a thing and it interferes with my ability to enjoy the novel.

Carol said...

It’s not easy to find decent books about that aspect of history, unfortunately. It’s hard enough trying to work out why the war started and I agree about the vulgar language. It sends a message that the author has a pretty limited vocabulary.

Debbie Nolan said...

Sharon thank you for your candid review. I am very selective about the books I read. It is always a challenge to find something that is good and interesting at the same time. Btw love your Christmas card. I used to make my own but haven't for several years. Yours is beautiful. Hugs!

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Debbie,

I'm far choosier now than when I was younger. Maybe because there is so much out there that is worth reading I don't want to waste time with reading less worthy works.

And thank you for the compliment. That means a lot coming from an artist like you.

Hope you have a blessed season.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Carol,

I would really like to read a good book on the history of Korea and how events transpired there.

I agree about foul language. It is symptomatic of an impoverished vocabulary. I also think the writers are told by editors that they have to have so much sex and language in order to get the book published.

Cleo said...

So interesting. My Korean friend said her grandparents were literally eating bark off trees to survive and now look how far they've come. Too bad about the book though.

This sentence in your review really resonated with me: "These people, who were truly victims, did not try to self-identify as victims or expect a free ride. " So different from today.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Cleo.

That's the thing. Asians and Jews were horribly discriminated against in the U.S. and yet they are now known for being the most successful sub-pops in my country (probably yours, too). Until people take personal responsibility for their life and stop blaming others nothing is going to improve.